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The Department of Homeland Security will ramp up criminal prosecutions of migrants as the US faces unprecedented challenges at the southern border, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.
Mayorkas made the commitment during a visit to the McAllen, Texas, area of the southern border Tuesday for an on-the-ground look at how US Customs and Border Protection is managing high levels of migrant encounters. Crossings are likely to increase, at least temporarily, if the Biden administration succeeds in ending a pandemic-related border restriction called Title 42.
“We will be increasing the number of criminal prosecutions to meet the challenge because the fact of the matter is there are more cases that warrant criminal prosecution than those cases that are being brought,” Mayorkas said during a press briefing.
“We’re a nation of immigrants,” he added, “but we are also a nation of laws.”
The Department of Homeland Security is preparing for Title 42 to end May 23, unless a court intervenes to keep it in place. Mayorkas and other officials have had little success assuring lawmakers and other critics that DHS is sufficiently prepared for an increase in migrant arrivals when Title 42 sunsets.
The public health authority has allowed border officials to quickly expel asylum-seekers and other migrants at the border since 2020.
CBP reported more than 230,000 apprehensions and expulsions of migrants at the southern border in April, up from about 179,000 a year earlier. The monthly numbers have been consistently high for the past year, drawing Republican attacks and increasing criticism among Democrats.
Border Patrol officials told Mayorkas Tuesday they expected unauthorized crossings by single adults to decrease when Title 42 goes away because there will be fewer repeated attempts to enter. The policy doesn’t impose traditional immigration law consequences on migrants, making it easier for them to try multiple times to get into the US.
Reverting to traditional authorities known as Title 8 will ensure that border-crossers who don’t qualify for asylum will have real consequences on their records, Mayorkas said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at email@example.com